Starting Small

 I read this book many years ago and it has always stuck with me. The book shares many stories and insights from inspiring school programs throughout the US. It starts off with a tale from a school in Seattle, Washington.  One of my favorite ideas from the entire book is practiced at the Happy Medium School. Here the teacher opens the year by asking the children to paint self- portraits using multicultural paints.  Children are invited to mix the colors to match their skin tones.  Debra (the teacher) tells a new student: "One of the things we decided was that instead of saying we're white, or black, or brown we'd find out exactly what color we are."  Her class rejoices in finding out what color they are exactly and readily share their discovery: "I'm gingerbread" "I'm peach" "I'm terra cotta."
As we are all aware identity is a complex process that we work on well into adulthood. Many studies have shown that infants and young children are aware of racial differences.  They quickly adopt the language and attitudes their culture have towards race.  While creating broad categories  limit the way children see themselves and their peers, pretending the world exists without differences has been found to be dangerous to the psyches of children with multicultural backgrounds.  The genius of Debra and Happy Medium School is that they created an environment that was as specific as we all are. We are all unique and would need more than a blanket label to fully describe us.  What color are you?

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